We’re living under the fog of a World transitioning to a radically changed way of imagining itself, amid the open sluice-gates of psyops.
We’re living in the fog of a war in Europe. We’re living too, in an economic fog of war, obscuring those who are sound, and in contrast, who it is who can no longer afford themselves, and thus are living on borrowed time. We’re living too under the fog of a World transitioning to a radically changed way of imagining itself, amid the open sluice-gates of psyops.
And transitioning the World is. Let’ try to clear the fog a tad.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II suddenly brought home – thanks to those replayed early newsreels of a young Queen in India and ‘her other colonies’ – that it is not only the world that is in change. It comes as a physical shock to recall, embedded in those newsreels of just one woman’s life, just how completely the West itself is changed.
Moving up a level, we see from those earliest clips, those secure, striding figures, confidently inhabiting another ‘reality’. They breathed out the air of the European Enlightenment and Rationalism. But not for long – for then came the push-back: ‘post-modern’ scepticism for ideals per se, for big ideas and conceptions; and utter disdain of Reason. Individual subjective mental process and consciousness-altering experience was the litmus for life ‘experience’ (the Woodstock era).
Today, the West has stepped yet further away from ‘what it was’. It is now an ideological battlespace, peopled by zealots who will firmly assert: ‘There is no ‘other’ to Ukraine’; ‘there is no ‘othering’ to Putin’; ‘and I will not ‘other’ the de-fossilisation of our world’ – that is, only their opinion is right. It is a battlespace which pointedly ‘cancels’ rationality and dialectics, and has created a distressed, fractured West, struggling to give meaning to itself.
The point here, however, is about that which has not changed. The earlier West may have become almost unrecognizable to itself today. Yet a part of that earliest legacy still hovers in the foreign policy background – almost wholly unaltered.
Foreign policy ‘bedrock’ remains framed around the Enlightenment and Scientific Rationalism ideal. A missionary project, based on the notion that as science ‘was neutral’, this inherent quality of neutrality had the power both to ‘free the world’ from its fetters of religion, cultural norms and ‘superstition’. And to serve as the pole around which the West might unite the world. It remains thus today.
But one big problem is that Enlightenment Science is far from neutral. It tilts; tilts in a direction that is antithetical to much of the rest of the world.
The western Scientific Revolution took, at its core, a hypothesis that “the cornerstone of the scientific method, is the postulate that nature is objective”. This postulate was asserted, whilst openly admitting simply that this definition amounted to “a systematic denial” that ‘true’ knowledge might be also reached through interpreting the world differently: as possessing latent meaning, direction, and purpose”.
The world thus was to become mere ‘matter’, reduced to inert, meaningless ‘dust’ – and inevitably, given this definition, ‘Man’ becoming the sole agent of transformation, and sole giver of meaning to our cosmos.
Jacques Monod, (a Nobel scientist), noted in his 1971 essay, Chance and Necessity, that this Enlightenment hypothesis erased the core postulate of the ‘other sensibility’ that has nurtured all ancient cultures and pre-Enlightenment science: that the blueprint of life – DNA, if you prefer – threads through everything. All the great (and very rational) sciences of the ancient world regarded the world as literally pulsating with life – and far from inert.
Paradoxically, Monod acknowledged that the assertion ‘nature is objective’ is impossible to demonstrate. But he wrote that [anyway] the “postulate of objectivity is consubstantial with science, and has guided the whole of its prodigious development for three centuries. It is impossible to escape it, even provisionally or in a limited area, without departing from the domain of science itself”. TINA – there is no alternative.
The western foreign policy zeitgeist therefore, was – by definition – secular. And though this construct is metaphysically at odds with most religions – Islam being but one example. It nonetheless brought many young Muslims to a secular version of Islam (exactly as intended, though with unforeseen and explosive consequences).
The bigger picture here is that Rationalism, postulating ‘modernity’ as rigorously secular, has morphed into a coerced one-size-fits-all, economic and political system, by which all others be judged. A universal rules-based system, in other words.
But societies and peoples around the globe who have experienced the very worst rigours that this Enlightenment myth imposed upon them, such as America’s ‘forever-wars’ that have killed millions, have collectively now concluded that this western ‘myth’ which at first had seemed to promise a ‘new world’, but so often ended badly, would no longer ‘do’.
Some would, and do, argue that American or European Enlightenment ‘liberal’ humanism, with its presumed ‘good intentions’, has no connection to Jacobinism or Trotskyite Bolshevism.
But, in practice, both are crucially similar: They are secular versions of the inexorable march towards a utopian, redemption of a flawed humanity. Yet most civilisations do not accept history to be at all linear.
Nevertheless, towards the end of the 20th century (and sometimes, in some societies, earlier), there occurred (to borrow a phrase from Frank Kermode) this “sense of an ending”.
Liberal orthodoxies had fallen into radical self-doubt. And around the world, movements (sometimes covert), were beginning to be arrayed against the political and economic imposition of (a diversity) of hybrid, literal, scientific rationalities (i.e. in Russia and Germany). Other societies suddenly just leaped into unknown futures (Iran).
All were symptoms suggestive of Fukuyama’s prediction that Homo Economicus’ dawning awareness of his own ‘hollowed out’ existence ultimately would take people to revolt.
Western élites both decry and seek to break all signs of ‘populism’ and ‘illiberalism’. Why? Because they ‘scent’ (and fear) in them, the shades of old pluralist values reasserting themselves that they thought to have been suppressed long ago, through Enlightenment rationality and secularism.
These élites may be correct in their anxiety: Their deliberate dismantling of any external norm, beyond civic conformity, which might guide the individual in his or her life and actions, and the enforced eviction of the individual from any form of structure (communal, societal, religion, family, and gender), has made a ‘turning back’ to what was always latent, if half-forgotten, almost inevitable.
What is occurring represents a global ‘reaching back’ to old ‘storehouses’ of values (Orthodoxy, Taoism, Shiism et al) – a silent religiosity; a ‘turn back’ to being again ‘in, and of’ the world. They are storehouses that have persisted; their foundational myths, and notion of cosmic ‘order’ (maat), still swirling in the deeper levels of collective unconscious.
These fragments live on, speaking to Truths that lie hidden in the vertices of myth, and not in competitive argument. They are not ‘Truths’ in the western meaning of ‘objective’ truth yet have represented the very pinnacles of human insight.
This ‘reaching back’, at least in a major part, lies at the root of the upcoming global order of sovereign civilisation-states. We see Russians turning to Orthodoxy to provide vitality and directionality to society. We see the same in India, China and in much of the world. The other aspect is when looking to the West, these states see decomposition and degradation.
It was in 2012 that the term ‘Civilisational States’ came to be more widely used in terms of an unfolding new global order. It signaled an end to the notion that (western) modernity (in the sense of partaking in the fruits of technological advance) mandated lockstep-Westification. It marked too, the end to the bipolar optic: Recently, when asked ‘on whose side are you’ in respect to Ukraine, the Indian Foreign Minister simply riposted that ‘it was time for Europe to grasp that their problems are not the World’s problems’: “We are our own side”, he said categorically.
This trend towards a multi-polar world is an anathema to the Washington foreign policy ‘Establishment’. A heterodoxy that re-appropriates traditional values precisely as the path to the re-sovereigntisation of a particular people mortally threatens the rules-based order.
Political philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue (1981), suggests that re-appropriation is not just about sovereignty. It is precisely the cultural narrative that provides a better explanation to the unity of a human life. The individual life stories of members of a community become enmeshed and intertwined. And the entanglement of our stories surges out to form the weft and weave of communal life. The latter can never be a single consciousness generated abstractly and imposed from a central command.
The point here is that it is cultural tradition alone, and its moral tales, that provide context to terms such as good and justice and telos. “In the absence of traditions, moral debate is out of joint; and becomes a theatre of illusions in which simple indignation and mere protest occupy centre stage”, wrote MacIntyre.
Which brings us to those of us living in the West – those who have never felt themselves inwardly to be a part of this contemporary world, but rather, somehow belonging to a different world – one with a very different ontological basis.
What we in the West possess today, MacIntyre suggests, is nothing more than mere fragments of an older tradition (a heroic society). But evidently, these fragments simply are too sparse, since our moral discourse which still deploys terms like good and justice and duty, nonetheless has been robbed of the context that would make these terms intelligible. In other words, it places the virtue of the heroic Homeric world beyond the reach of a collective West.
Nonetheless, under the palimpsest of diverse European protest camps, we are witnessing inklings of recovery peeping out from behind the ruins: old values, earlier social forms are returning in a new, fecund form. Most of today’s ‘discontented’ will be oblivious to this and may never seriously address the deeper layers to the history of thinking, or to that ‘other’ vision from which they derive.
But that is not the point, for even as the leaves of western civilisation fall to the ground, seeds are being set into our collective psyche.
A ‘layer’ lives on, deep inside us – and surges up, (particularly at times of crisis), to challenge ‘who it is we think we are’, and to pose us a ‘life-choice’. It directs us to the fork in the road. It is, in short, not a matter of ‘returning to the past’, but of connecting us to almost-lost memories that suddenly catch new flame from greying, dust-covered embers, as fresh air streams across them.
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.